Fear the ‘peer’
Listen up, people.
I only have a few of these opportunities left to rant to what is the online equivalent of a captive audience. I guess after I graduate you could always follow my tumblr, but honestly, just writing that sentence made me want to cry/vomit. We are approaching the end of the days when you get to read my words and then look at an artist’s rendition of my shockingly receding hairline at the bottom of the post.
But for today, I’ma let you in on one of my irrational, but completely legitimate, hatreds: the phrase “peer institutions.” Why do I hate this piece of the Columbia lexicon? Because it’s obnoxious while trying to sound un-obnoxious, and it confuses more than it reveals.
I get where the phrase comes from, and the desire to use it. To put on my sports columnist hat (yup, another picture where I’m balding), the “Ivy League” only actually exists as an athletic conference. Saying “Ivy League” doesn’t encompass UChicago or Stanford or Georgetown or MIT. It leaves out Barnard, which I think even the most adamant Bwog commenter would agree is more connected to Columbia than is, say, UPenn.
Also, saying “Ivy League” too much just makes you sound like a douche.
So, I get it. The official name for the official group of schools of which Columbia is a part doesn’t cut it. But at least when you say “Ivy League” people know which eight schools you’re talking about. When you say “peer institutions,” you bring to mind the annoying moment in 3rd grade when my teacher explained to me why the other 8 year-olds sitting in a circle with me were my “peers,” what that word meant, and why we all had to be nice to each other.
This rant isn’t a guilty, trying-to-deny-our-elitism thing. In fact, it’s the opposite. Columbia is clearly an elite university, for the (happy) reason that the education we get here is absolutely top-notch, and the (unhappy) reason that, even in 2012, so many of the school’s students are the sons and daughters of the country’s and the world’s elite.
The phrase “peer institutions” tends to be used as a term of merit, of exceptionalism—using it implies, oddly enough, that we are nearly “peerless.” “Elite,” meanwhile, is necessarily a term of status—using it means recognizing the privilege, and the narrowness of perspective, inherent in our education.
Maybe, just maybe, recognizing those facts could make us a little less obnoxious.
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